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Just Keep Swimming!

02 Dec 19
Sue Smith
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Just Keep Swimming!

As a child I never had the support and nurturing that I would wish for any other child. It led to complications: married too young, teenage motherhood and turbulent relationships. Sad circumstances and an assumed life of chaos and turmoil would be the likely outcome for me.

Now in personal relationships I confess it has not always been plain sailing and my inability to trust was reinforced through my experiences of controlling and hostile characters. But this blog is about professional and personal development, how adversity can not only be overcome but can indeed be nurtured itself into something positive.

I left school at 16 having sat just 2 of the 9 O’ levels I studied (yes I am that old)! Married at 17, first child at 18, another at 19 and another at 21.  Separated at 21 and divorced at 22. Now the separation itself was a relief however the concept of being a single mum with 3 kids at 21 year old – well – the future didn’t look bright.

I depended on state benefits and experienced all the judgements and hardships that go with that. But despite this and additional extreme circumstances that could rival any soap opera (I will write a book one day) I dug deep to find something, anything, something to move me and my children forward.

At that time further education was free if you were in receipt of benefits, so I enrolled into a local college and studied Sociology and Psychology.

I even got an ‘A’ level …..me!

I also knew that I needed to gain experience in something. So, as my children entered nursery and school age, I took up part time work and volunteering. Now the contrast couldn’t have been different, my part time work consisted of cleaning and catering work to give me a few extra quid to rob Peter and pay Paul.  My difficult life experiences however led to a core desire to help others, to support those worse off, to turn my experiences into something positive. I wanted to make a difference!

I approached the then volunteer development agency, which no longer exists unfortunately and following an interview they offered me a placement working with a charity that supported victims of crime.

Now don’t get me wrong, it was not easy. I was about 24 years old, 3 kids, part time work and volunteering. I could have given up, been a stay at home mum but it never entered my head, I was always looking for the next thing, the progression, the next step, to make that difference.

Over those few years I developed a great deal. I started as all volunteers do needing a boat load of training and supervised practise working with clients. My people skills developed quickly, and I loved that I was volunteering to help people in my local community. Despite that my self-belief was so low that when a part time admin/support post came up at the charity I didn’t even consider applying. The post became vacant again a short while later and I was asked why I hadn’t applied first time round, so I did and got the job.

That role saw me develop further, I became the service co-ordinator, I trained volunteers and I went through all the stages of learning required to work with the most serious crimes and vulnerable witnesses. This is also when I started counselling training and where my first knowledge of working with PTSD occurred. The service manager was a Certified Trauma Specialist and I was fortunate enough that she saw my ability, she believed in me when I didn’t, and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn. I worked with her for many years in the capacity of a ‘Trauma Associate’ an area of work that still fascinates and drives my work today.

This period of my life, 20’s – early 30’s, was significant in steering the path that I pursued. It was still tough; I experienced another marriage followed by divorce and had to deal with life changing and dramatic personal circumstances (still going to write that book)! The charity I worked for also changed, due to restructuring it was no more and I wasn’t at all sure what to do next. But still I kept digging deep, I kept going.

I found myself looking at a job vacancy one day – a specialist organisation in Middlesbrough. I read the words, the person specification and yes, I could say yes to them all, but I still didn’t really believe in me. I applied, thinking it was nothing more than experience in applying for jobs, I got an interview, I went along thinking it was good experience of interview techniques, I got the job and felt major disbelief –crikey I wasn’t even sure how to get to Middlesbrough, there must be a mistake!

It was no mistake; I was employed as a ‘Training and Development Officer’ for an organisation specialising in Domestic and Sexual Abuse. The team there quickly grew to respect me, and I was honoured. Again, I thought they were so much more knowledgeable than me but here they were coming to me for advice and support and there I was training professionals. I was terrified at the start but soon became embedded in the world of Teesside, running support groups within the community, developing and delivering accredited training with the University, working with clients with complex needs and supporting my colleagues.

After a few years the organisations role had changed, and funding became restricted so once again my future wasn’t certain. I was also facing further adverse personal circumstances (that book again)! I recall thinking I should stay put, just see what happens, I like many other people was fearful of the unknown, wary of change.

Around this time a new national initiative was underway – the creation of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in each Police force area. They were to be 24/7 support centres providing a range of options to victims who had experienced serious sexual offences. Services were provided regardless of whether the client wished to report to the Police. The Teesside one was due to open and they were looking for a Manager.

Colleagues believed in me, still more than I did and following reassuring feedback about how great I would be at the SARC I applied………and following a presentation and an interview to a panel of 5 ‘very important people’ ….I got the job.

As Manager of the Teesside Sexual Assault Referral Centre I had 12 years of building the service from nothing. I was presented with a brand-new building, new furniture and equipment but no policies, no procedures and initially only one member of staff. It took time to build the service into a fabulous facility providing excellent around the clock care to victims across Teesside, but relationships were built, respect obtained, and I had an amazing staff team doing a fabulous job.

Following a procurement process the service expanded to include provision of 24/7 crisis support to neighbouring SARCs too. Initially I was honoured that commissioners modelled the contract on the Teesside service of crisis intervention. Unfortunately, the new contract resulted in the role having less client focus and more screen time. Once again I had to consider my position and options available to me. Change is difficult and can be scary but change is also about opportunity and chances. I had to take the leap.

Launch: Specialist Support Solutions Ltd.

After 13 wonderful years of work in Teesside (I’m not including the ever-lengthening commute in that) I’ve took the plunge and launched my own business. Counselling, training and facilitating.

I’ve got this wealth of experience, both professional and personal (I will write that book)! And I want to bring that back to help my local community.

I’ve got a Management Degree, a Masters Degree no less – yes me! Me who left school with just 2 O’levels, me who was a single mum of 3 at just 21 years old and me who had no belief in me and thought that only ‘posh’ people went to University.

I’m a qualified Counsellor, an experienced Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA), a qualified Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA), DBS Cleared, Safeguarding trained and Director of my own business……..

In 2017 I even won a special award which you can see if you follow this link:

https://www.cleveland.pcc.police.uk/Take-Part/Cleveland-Community-Safety-Awards-2017-Winners.aspx#ad-image-35

Am I bragging? No not at all – I still think that somehow, I got here by some sort of fluke!! (It’s called Impostor Syndrome and most of us have a bit of it).

The point is this: – I’m a firm believer in positive mental attitude (PMA). PMA has helped me survive and encouraged my onward drive. Am I still a little scared? Of course I am. Will I let that stop me from trying? Absolutely not – I still want to make a difference and I’m still heading in that direction. 😊

Finally:-

Always ask yourself this:-

What’s the worst that can happen?

It goes wrong? – So, stop, try a different path.

You fail? – So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again.

And if different paths are daunting, if you feel you simply haven’t got the energy to start again, get some help, get some support, personal or professional you’ll be surprised at what and who is there for you.

The worst thing is to do nothing, every step you take is a step, even if it doesn’t work out as you hoped it is a step forward. We learn from mistakes and advance from our learning.

Keep moving forward, Just Keep Swimming!

Sue

Therapy for therapists

23 Oct 19
Sue Smith
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Therapy for therapists

This week I’m touching on an interesting subject – the need for therapy for those working therapeutically with clients.

‘Why would you see a counsellor that needs help themselves’? I hear you shout.

Well there are a few things to unpick here.

Let’s start by re-framing this thought, consider this: –

  1. Who wants to be helped by someone that doesn’t look after their own mental health?
  2. You don’t have to be ill to access counselling
  3. Recognising the need to deal with an emotion or a problem is a strength not a weakness
  4. Clients benefit from therapists who are self-aware – it assures that their counsellor is totally in their perspective and not distracted with their own feelings

Starting to make a it more sense now? I’m going to expand on this and will start by outlining the difference between clinical supervision and personal therapy

Clinical Supervision

Some of you may be aware that counsellors and psychotherapists access clinical supervision with a trained supervisor. This is a requirement for membership of professional bodies such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

Clinical supervision is a regular meeting with an experienced practitioner trained to supervise other practitioners. My BACP requirements for accreditation purposes are that I receive a minimum of 1.5 hours clinical supervision per month. My clinical supervisor is a Dr, a Chartered Psychologist and I have worked with her for over 8 years now. My previous clinical supervisor was a Certified Trauma Specialist (CTS), and Snr Accredited Counsellor (BACP) and she provided my supervision for over 15 years.

The purpose of supervision:

BACP describes supervision as: ‘A specialised form of professional mentoring provided for practitioners responsible for undertaking challenging work with people. Supervision is provided to ensure standards, enhance quality, advance learning, stimulate creativity, and support the sustainability and resilience of the work being undertaken’ (BACP, 2016)

What this means is that in practise I meet with my supervisor and we work through what is going on for me within my practise.  For example – I may discuss with my supervisor a client scenario that I am struggling with. My supervisor may provide pointers or suggest new ways of working with the client. My supervisor is also aware of ethical considerations and ensures my practise is best practise, she would report anything that concerned her about my ability to work with clients.

Sometimes there may be personal things going on for me or a specific reasons why I am struggling with a particular scenario. That’s normal I’m human. Clinical supervision is a safe space for me to work through those issues to ensure that my work with my clients is the best it possibly can be.

Clinical supervision however is not personal therapy.

The BACP state that supervision is not:

‘the same as therapy. At times, it is appropriate for a supervisor to offer support to a supervisee who is experiencing a personal crisis, but that support should not become lengthy, overshadow client concerns or lessen the process of supervision’.

A clinical supervisor may suggest that their supervisee would benefit from some therapeutic work as part of the clinical supervision consultation. However, in the same way as a counsellor cannot accept a client that they know personally for counselling work, the clinical supervisor cannot provide therapeutic interventions to someone they are contracted to provide clinical supervision to. This ensures professional boundaries are maintained.

So, to simply define the two –

Clinical supervision – is a professional process that ensures my practise is safe and in the best interests of clients.

Personal therapy – is a personal process to explore my personal issues in the same way as I would facilitate the process for a client.

Personal Therapy

Whilst not a professional requirement I would argue that accessing personal therapy when needed is a professional thing for any practising counsellor to do.

At the end of the day I am human the same as anyone else (allegedly)! I have fluctuating levels of mental health and ability, usually influenced by external factors.

Like most people I try to put things to the back of my mind and get on with life. Mostly things come and go, mental resilience prevails, and things are fine.

Sometimes however I know that something is lingering and no matter how much I rationalise it and try to put it to rest it keeps reminding me its there. It could be a particular crisis or problem that’s playing on my mind or a pattern of behaviour I’ve developed. Ultimately if it doesn’t feel healthy to me then chances are its not a healthy thing to ignore and carry through my day to day life.

So, when I need to I will access personal therapy to explore what is going on for me, to help me make sense and put those emotions/feelings/thoughts or behaviours to rest.

Why wouldn’t I? Its healthier for me to be grounded, self-aware and fully functioning. It’s also better for my loved ones as believe me those close to you know when things aren’t great. And finally, but not least, its better for me professionally and that benefits my clients.

Last thought

I hope this has provided a little insight into some of the world of counselling beyond the counselling room.

Last thought:

How hypocritical would it be for me as a counsellor to expect clients to access therapy when they have issues impacting on them if I was not willing to do the same myself?

Yes, I’m a counsellor, yes I’m human and yes I will access counselling when I need to.

Talking Trauma

14 Oct 19
Sue Smith
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TALKING TRAUMA

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is being spoken about more often nowadays. Its included within scripts for TV dramas, recognised more within the mental health arena and generally acknowledged by society as a real condition.

But what does it mean? And what does it look like?

This blog gives a brief overview of this fascinating area of psychology.

Firstly, its important for me to say that personally I dislike the ‘D’ the disorder bit of PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD are the resulting factor of the brain working as it should when we experience non-normal life events. Such events trigger responses in the acute stage, at the time of the event and those responses are triggered to protect you, to save your life. Indeed, given horrendous, terrifying circumstances I would be more concerned about the survivor who experienced them and stated they were fine with no effect than someone who presented with trauma related symptoms.

However, for some people, and I believe many more than those currently diagnosed, the symptoms do not subside or fade over a period of time. Rather they continue, keeping the event, the incident, the trauma ‘charged’ as if it were still happening. So, your logic tells you it happened in the past, but you feel like it just happened yesterday, indeed the most common symptoms are those of re-experiencing where the individual relives the event through flashbacks, dreams, intrusive thoughts and imagery. In this respect when symptoms persist and interfere with day to day life for a prolonged period then I guess its fair to refer to it as disordered. Though I prefer to consider the circumstance as the trauma is still charged.

Many sufferers suffer in silence, thinking they’re ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ and wishing they could return to be the person they were before the event. To those around them they may appear to be out of character, have mood swings, or lack interest in previously enjoyed activities.  Its difficult for friends and loved ones to comprehend because the traumatic event is not charged for them, it is a memory, consigned to the memory banks. This can amplify the negative beliefs of the person experiencing symptoms and silence them further.

Image if you will: ‘The grandma who was mugged on her way back from bingo, she was pushed to the ground and her handbag snatched. That was over two years ago, but she still does not go to bingo and she still repeats the story over and over. Family response initially was good but now she often gets reminded that it was years ago and its been to court and she needs to put it behind her.’      Sounds familiar? She could have PTSD.

To be diagnosed with PTSD a certain number of symptoms must be present from three categories. The categories are: Re-experiencing, Avoidance and Arousal.

Individuals can also suffer with some symptoms, say for example from just one category, thereby not meeting the threshold for diagnosed PTSD, and still find themselves struggling to cope. This is because the symptoms can keep the traumatic incident charged even when there are not enough for full PTSD. The most draining of the symptoms are usually the re-experiencing ones.

Avoidance symptoms are; as the name suggests, methods of avoiding the re-experiencing symptoms being triggered. So people avoid talking about what happened, avoid watching their favourite soap opera because of the current story line, avoid the news, throw themselves into distraction by doing a task or turn to substances as a way of blocking it out.
The ultimate avoidance for some sadly is suicide.

Imagine this then:

Your gut, your feelings, your emotions are screaming at you ‘ this is difficult this is painful you need to deal with it’ while your head is shouting back ‘yes this is difficult this is painful, I’m not going to think about it’.

This conflict is a continuing battle of Re-experiencing VS Avoidance and the outcome is Arousal.

Arousal symptoms include: Sleep disturbance, irritability, hyper vigilance, lack of concentration to name a few.

The cycle continues: You have put the trauma in the suitcase and place the closed suitcase on the shelf behind you. You’re aware of it but you’re leaving it there as you want to get on with life. But every now and again something reminds you that the suitcase is there. Not only are you reminded of the suitcase, but something opens it and shows you the content within. You are back there, reliving not just the memories but the associated feelings and emotions that went with it. You desperately want that case closed and back on its shelf. So, you use whatever avoidance technique is at your disposal and regain control. Until the next time….

As a therapist with a passion for trauma I am in awe of the courage needed by traumatised people. Not only in surviving the extremely draining symptoms and continuing to find ways to function, but also in the strength it takes to access therapy. Think about this vicious circle, the trauma needs to be worked on to take the charge from it, the last thing you want to do is to re-experience the trauma, so naturally you’re going to avoid therapy if you can. Therapy is the act of doing exactly what your head is trying to stop you doing!

It stands to reason for all clients, particular those with traumatic memories that a safe environment along with a working pace timed to suit the individual is paramount to building a healthy therapeutic relationship.

Further information about symptoms and treatment is available at:

https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng116 

More trauma talk in future blogs.

World Mental Health Day 10th October.

10 Oct 19
Sue Smith

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Today, October 10th is World Mental Health Day.

World Mental Health Day.

Its important to remember that Mental Health like Physical Health it fluctuates, some days are great some not so good. In winter arthritics feel their pain more, under pressure and at times of stress someones good mental health may deteriorate.
So how is your mental health on World Mental Health Day?
If its good – great! Keep looking after yourself and appreciate it may change.

If its not so good – be aware, spot the signs of deterioration, be kind to yourself. Seek some help if necessary.
And on World Mental Health Day always remember that we do not know what is going on for other people today, tomorrow, next week. If someone seems different don’t be shy – ask this simple question -‘How are you today?’

Welcome to the Specialist Support Solutions new website.

07 Oct 19
Sue Smith
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Hi,

Welcome to the Specialist Support Solutions new website.  Please have a look around, and visit us regularly to keep up with new announcements, training offerings and blog posts as we continue to develop the site over the coming months.

Thanks.

Sue Smith.